Wissot: There’s more than one way to show your patriotism (column)
I love standing on the balcony of my Wall Street condo diagonally across from Pepi’s each Fourth of July and watch the parade pass by: roaring motorcycles, funny floats, local dignitaries waving from the back seat of convertibles, little kids riding their bikes, marching bands, veterans from wars long forgotten receiving well-deserved applause and, of course, the synchronized lawn chair guys who never fail to entertain. I’ve been watching the festivities for 18 years now, and I wouldn’t miss them for the world.
I tell you this because except for that one day a year, I am not very patriotic when it comes to publicly celebrating America. We fly flag bunting from that balcony every Fourth of July but not on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. I don’t wear a flag pin on my jacket lapel; I don’t put “I Love America” bumper stickers on my car; I don’t put my hand over my heart when singing the “Star Spangled Banner” at sporting events. I prefer standing respectfully with my arms by my side.
So what does that tell you about my patriotism? Am I less patriotic than any of you who wear your patriotism on your sleeve and display your love of country in a way that I don’t? Perhaps. For many of you, I probably am, and that’s fine with me. You’re entitled to your opinion of me, and for all I know, you may be right: I may be patriotically deficient.
It’s not that I think rah-rah displays of patriotic pride are wrong. I don’t think they are. They are just wrong for me. I don’t feel comfortable making a public display of my personal feelings toward this country. I love America, respect it and am grateful for all the opportunities in my life that it has afforded me. I just don’t like being part of a crowd yelling “U-S-A” as if my country was a sports franchise.
Rooting for your country is different for me than rooting for your favorite football team. I don’t mind screaming for the Broncos at a game or in a bar. I want the Broncos to win and not lose. I think cheering for your country is more complicated. The outcome is different. The day-to-day trials and tribulations of a country are not the same as a football game. At the end of the day, we don’t have a clear verdict, such as America: 1, Rest of the World: 0.
My country and my government are not one in the same to me. My love for my country is unconditional; my feelings for my government are always in conditional flux. And when I say government, I mean the legislative and judicial branches, not just the executive.
When I have a disagreement with any of those branches, I don’t see myself as being disrespectful toward the country and all its great traditions. My beef is with the government in charge at the time, whether that be the president, the Supreme Court or the House and Senate.
The country will still be here, and Old Glory will still be flying high, long after any president has left office, the Congress changes its membership and the justices on the Supreme Court retire or die. America’s greatness as a country will endure long after each generation’s contemporary government officials have left the stage. The words of Mark Twain ring true here. Twain said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”
The reasons for my feelings about patriotism may stem from my political beliefs, namely my unabashed liberalism. In a poll commissioned two days before Barack Obama was elected president for the first time in 2008, the findings revealed a clear split between Democrats and Republicans on the subject.
“Democrats and liberals,” the poll reported, “tend to think about patriotism in terms of America’s promise, in terms of America’s ongoing struggle to become a better nation,” but “for conservatives, patriotism has to do with reverence toward the past, the idea that ritual, flying the flag, putting (on) a flag lapel pin is a vehicle to deeper meaning. The differences may explain why “liberals often tend to believe that ritual is a substitute for deeper meaning.”
In the end, this reveals why, when polled, “36 percent of Republicans think that wearing that flag pin means someone is patriotic, compared to 26 percent of Democrats.” When it comes to saying the Pledge of Allegiance, “67 percent of Republicans think that’s patriotic. Not even half (48 percent) of Democrats do.” (“How Do You Define Patriotism?” CBS News, Nov. 2, 2008.)
One area of agreement between the two political factions should be that both condemn in the strongest possible words the prostitution of patriotism, the exploitation of the genuine love for the country that many Americans have, by perverted populists who want to widen the growing cultural divide.
Let’s be clear here: Tribalism is not patriotism. Nationalism is not patriotism. Labeling large numbers of immigrants as terrorists is not patriotism. Chants of white pride are not patriotism. Misogyny and sexual assault on women are not patriotic acts. Trashing our judiciary is not patriotism. Insulting our intelligence services is not patriotism. Believing that large segments of the media traffic in “fake” news is not patriotism. Saying that an unabashed war hero was not a hero because he was captured is not patriotism. Questioning the loyalties of the Muslim parents of a Gold Star recipient is not patriotism.
Rallying around the flag in calling out racists, bigots and misogynists should not be a partisan issue. It should unite us all as proud Americans.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail.